The Kashmir valley, the Indian-controlled but Muslim-majority territory on India's disputed border with Pakistan, has seen at least 53 people killed in the last two months in violent clashes between security forces and civilian protestors. According to Simon Tisdall writing in yesterday's Guardian ('India's blinkered policy on Kashmir'), the current crisis invites comparison to 'Israel's treatment of Palestinians.'
This latest outbreak of rioting and fighting in Kashmir began on June 11 after a 17-year-old student was shot and killed by police in the summer capital of Srinagar. According to The Guardian's Jason Burke, 'In recent days, thousands of youths have pelted security forces with rocks, burned government offices and attacked railway stations and official vehicles in steadily intensifying violence.' India has imposed a strict curfew on the valley region, which, according to a report in The Spectator, has allowed some people out of their homes for just a single hour each week.
So far 53 people have been killed in the escalated violence, most of them rock-throwing demonstrators or unarmed protestors who have been fired upon by Indian paramilitary troopers.
Tisdall, seemingly aware of these facts, cites Barbara Crossette, a writer for the American left-wing magazine The Nation:
'India maintains a force of several hundred thousand troops and paramilitaries in Kashmir, turning the summer capital, Srinagar, into an armed camp frequently under curfew and always under the gun. The media is labouring under severe restrictions. Torture and human rights violations have been well documented.'
It is after this paragraph that Tisdall observes, 'Comparisons with Israel's treatment of Palestinians were not inappropriate.'
A glib, pass-by analogy such as this leaves the reader unacquainted with the deeply contrastive histories and scales of the Arab-Israeli and Kashmir conflicts. Their largest similarity is their near simultaneous origins in the 1947-1948 period, which saw both the founding of the State of Israel and the British partitioning of the Indian subcontinent. But a little further context would be useful.
Since 1989, the start of the Muslim separatist rebellion, 78,000 people have died in Kashmir. That's ten times the number of people who have died in the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1967, which includes both Palestinian intifadas and last year's much-reported Gaza war.
The Kashmir Valley is today militarily occupied by 700,000 Indian security forces, with more on the way, whereas the IDF's occupational footprint in the West Bank has steadily eroded over the past two years. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israeli roadblocks in the West Bank have been reduced by 20 percent in the last year alone, with "manned checkpoints, roadblocks and other barriers [dropping] to 505 from a peak of 626." The IDF is also planning to deconstruct part of the Jerusalem barrier wall that separates the Israeli town of Gilo from the West Bank town of Beit Jala. The cause for the decision, according to Haaretz, is the dramatic absence of Arab-Israeli violence in an area that was formerly a cynosure for it.
Also consider that the UN presence in Kashmir is negligible compared with its omnipresence in Gaza and the West Bank. As of May 31, 2010, the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) employed 44 military observers, supported by 23 international civilian personnel and 48 local civilian staff: 115 people, in other words, to survey a region the size of the United Kingdom. By contrast, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which administers health, social services and schools for Palestinian in 900 installations in the West Bank and Gaza, employes nearly 30,000 staff for a territory the size of Norfolk and the Isle of Wight put together.
Another problem in comparing Kashmir to Palestine is that Palestine's internal security is largely maintained by Palestinians. There are at present 25,000 members of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces, including 2,100 paramilitary troops that have been trained by the U.S. Army. These troops are regularly mobilized by the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to conduct autonomous operations against sectarian militants in the West Bank. (In fact, the bulk of accusations of torture and human rights violations against Palestinians living in the West Bank today are directed against their own security forces.)
Finally, while most foreign journalists are wary of traveling to Kashmir because of not-so-subtle hints from New Delhi that unflattering dispatches might lead to revoked visas, Jerusalem evidently takes a more liberal policy to international scrutiny. Since June 1, Tisdall's colleague, Guardian Middle East correspondent Harriet Sherwood, has published 14 articles from the West Bank and Gaza, where there is indeed a military curfew in place right now - imposed and upheld by the Hamas regime.